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Extending Fourth fireworks fun fizzles
Commission takes advice of county fire chiefs
new deh county commission fireworks pic web
Great Bend firefighters battle a blaze on the outskirts of Great Bend. It is the potential for fires like this that prompted county fire chiefs to oppose allowing more days to shoot fireworks in Barton County this year. - photo by Tribune file photo

After fierce opposition from fire chiefs across Barton County, the County Commission Monday morning rejected a resolution that would have allowed the discharge of fireworks in the unincorporated area of the county for the week surrounding the Fourth of July.

Since Independence Day falls on Wednesday this year, Sheriff Brian Bellendir asked that fireworks be allowed from 6 p.m., June 29, until midnight, July 8. This period includes both the weekend before and after the actual holiday, County Administrator Phil Hathcock said.

According to Hathcock, Bellendir’s thinking was the enforcement of a one-day discharge period with the Fourth falling midweek. 

This would have only applied to this year. It would have also been contingent on dry conditions and burn bans that may arise.

However, “we’ve got some great concerns about this,” an upset Ellinwood Fire Chief Chris Komarek said. He said fire officials were caught off guard with this being on the Monday agenda and would have liked to have been consulted. 

“I am speaking for most fire departments,” he said. Indeed, other chiefs present at the meeting spoke against the change as well.

“The discharge of fireworks creates a big fire risk,” Komarek said. “We get stretched pretty thin,” with both firefighters and equipment taxed.

This is a particular problem in smaller departments like Ellinwood’s that are all volunteer, Komarek said. He has 24 firefighters, but is lucky to get 12 to respond, a problem made even worse during the work week. Some of his guys work out of town.

The State of Kansas allows the sale of fireworks from June 27-July 5. But, it leaves the shooting of them up to the local municipalities.

Several years ago, the county moved from allowing fireworks from July 1-4. But, that was changed to allow them only on the Fourth, the same as the cities in the county.

Komarek said that was progress. “I recommend we follow that. I say we just shoot them on the Fourth and be done with it.”

Then, what about next year when the Fourth falls on a Thursday, Komarek said? Or any other week day?

It is not just volunteer departments that would feel the pinch, Great Bend Fire Chief Luke McCormick said. Great Bend increases staffing on the Fourth in anticipation of fires and over nine days, “that could be a budget issue.”

This could also hit smack in the middle of the wheat harvest. In addition to more fire dangers, many volunteers also help in the harvest fields.

In the end, it was balancing people having more time to celebrate with the potential for more property damage, commission Chairwoman Jennifer Schartz said. It is important to side with safety.

“I think we should leave the regulation as it is,” Commissioner Don Davis said.

Since the status quo is only allows one day to shoot fireworks, the lack of commission action keeps this in place.